As originally conceived, the wet/dry vac was a straightforward, relatively inexpensive (under $100) canister vacuum that was purchased in the hardware department. It was ruggedly built to do the jobs one wouldn’t dare try with a conventional home vacuum: picking up large pieces of debris and standing pools of water. It was a great Father’s Day gift. It was strictly for the boys.
Fast forward to the ’90s. Although sales have continued to increase at the rate of 6 to 8 percent per year, market penetration seems to have stabilized at about 25 to 30 percent of households. The average retail price of a wet/dry vac is well under $100. Although unit sales are currently running at slightly more than 3 million, the retail value is only about $175 million to $180 million. the category needed a boost.
Over the past three years, various marketing changes have occurred to give wet/dry vacs a new vitality. In the next years, manufacturers predict that the category will grow at the increased rate of 10 to 12 percent a year.This is no longer a single-digit SKU category. Wet/dry vacs are being updated with both functional and cosmetic upgrades. The result is deeper product lines that give consumers a broader choice of horsepower levels and tank capacities. The new wet/dry vacs are more tip-proof, quieter, can perform a variety of functions from blowing to carpet cleaning and are better looking.
WHERE THEY ARE SOLD
Wet/dry machines have traditionally been sold in the male bastion of hardware, whether it be the corner hardware store or the hardware department of a mass merchant or discounter.
They are not treated in the same classification as vacuum cleaners. The store buyer is usually in hardware merchandising. The manufacturer has generally been out of the mainstream of the vacuum cleaning industry. The end-user (but not always the purchaser) is male
There has not been a great deal of change in the methods of selling wet/dry vacs. However, with more traditional vac makers entering the business, it remains to be seen whether these products will become more prevalent in housewares with floor care than in hardware with tools.
Due to the size of the boxes, the fight for space will make the wet/dry market extremely competitive come next year.
The nation’s shopping patterns have shifted to home centers and discount stores, and sales of wet/dry vacs in these retail outlets have in part, reflected that trend. However, the traditional hardware department has also remained an extremely important retailing segment for this category.
ADVERTISING AND MARKETING
Infomercials may be the way to introduce consumers to a conceptually new product category such as deep-cleaning machines. But the public needs no introduction to wet/dry vacs. According to manufacturers, consumers are generally motivated to buy by functional necessity (large pieces of debris from a home project), emergency (water in garage or basement) or gift opportunity (Father’s Day and Christmas remain prime selling seasons).
However, new players and new products are expected to stimulate increased advertising and promotional activity for the category, according to the major manufacturers. Infomercials are not on the drawing boards currently, but there will be increased activity in local and national spot television and print inserts. Like other products that are sold on a largely self-service basis, the box becomes the most important sales tool on the retail floor. The goal of box design is for strong graphics and quick recognition of product features.
THE WOMAN CUSTOMER
Manufacturers have become aware that women from an important customer category as they get involved in home projects or purchase units as gifts for their husbands. Research commissioned by Genie Corp., in fact, discovered that purchases are split evenly between male and female. Although it has been conceded that men are probably still the biggest users of the product, marketing experts are rethinking their sales message and broadening its scope to attract the woman buyer.
Shop-Vac Corp., the pioneer manufacturer, has been in business since 1965. Its marketing message has been so strong that “Shop-Vac” has become a household word. It’s not the kind of company to rest on those kind of laurels, however.
New products are being developed for high performance features. The Quiet Super Performance (QSP) series has a specially designed motor housing for sound reductions, a heavy-duty 2 horsepower motor and a deluxe accessory package.
In keeping with the trend toward multi-purpose machinery, Shop-Vac is also marginally involved in the deep-cleaning business. The company offers a $50 Steam Team accessory package which converts the wet/dry unit into a cleaning machine.
Genie Corp.’s roots are in motor building. Founded in 1926, the company was a major supplier of military motors during World War II. In 1954, the company pioneered the garage door-opener field. Garage doors have been its claim to fame ever since, but in 1983, Genie entered the wet-dry vac business with a canister-type home vac-extractor unit. Genie is one of the few manufacturers that also has a long-time involvement with the deep-cleaning business. However, Genie is not a major player in deep cleaning.